The Tourist & The Traveler – Which are you?

As you travel the world it won’t take you long to see that there are really two very different ways to experience new places. Regardless of whether you travel in luxury or on a budget, it’s really not the style of travel that defines you but the way in which you travel that categorizes you. The two different classifications of explorer are what we bloggers like to call “tourists and travelers.”

Keep in mind that many of the things a traveler would do are the same as a tourist – remember it’s how you explore new areas that defines you, not what you do. See which type of explorer you are using the lists below.

“The traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see.”   – Gilbert K. Chesterton

The Tourist – 3 Defining Characteristics

Has a set agenda of activities for the trip

Tourists pushing and shoving and waiting to get close to take that photo of the Mona Lisa. I took a photo of them and her. She's quite magnificent.

Tourists in Paris, France – pushing and shoving and waiting to get close to take that photo of the Mona Lisa. I took a photo of them and her. She’s quite magnificent! They are annoying.

The tourist doesn’t want much left up to chance. This could be really good or it could be a real bummer, it’s all about perspective. Their exploration is filled with things they “must” do and “must” see. It’s a game of checking things off the list. They need to get to their hotel by 4:00pm, they need to eat at a preselected restaurant by 5:30pm and they need to get to the Eiffel Tower by 6:30pm to get photos of it as the sun sets because tomorrow is all about getting to The Louvre and making a day of it before hopping a train to Amsterdam to check items off of that list. There is nothing wrong with this approach to exploration, but it does not allow for much flexibility. If this person were to meet a really interesting person at dinner, chances are, they would say “goodbye” and head over the the Eiffel Tower instead of sitting and getting to know their new friend. This may be fine for many and not so good for others – it’s all about who you are and what kind of exploration you appreciate most.

Tend to come alone and leave alone

Not very touristy - Austin City Limits festival. I struck up a conversation with a guy from North Carolina who knows the father of some of my friends in my hometown back in Virgina. Very cool!

Not very touristy – Austin City Limits festival. I struck up a conversation with a guy from North Carolina who knows the father of some of my friends in my hometown back in Virgina. Very cool! I’m a traveler.

Sometimes tourists travel in a group, but no matter whether they’re in a group of going solo, they tend to come into a new place knowing no one and leave without knowing anyone new as well. They’re there to see the place, the things and the sites, not to meet the people. Each place is like a fish bowl to them – something to be viewed on their terms, not engaged with. In fact, people with a tourist mindset often get frustrated when visiting a new place because the things they are not accustomed to are unavailable. “What? You don’t have Bud Light in every bar in Rome? But I only drink Bud Light! You have to be kidding me! And you call this a modern city?” Tourists often oddly expect their typical way of living to be available to them in a foreign country and are easily frustrated when they discover different places have different ways of doing things. If in a group, it’s clear that they’re a group and aren’t interested in engaging other people as much as they are interacting with each other. They’re the big table of North Americans sitting in the corner booth at a bar having one hell of a time all by themselves just like they would had they stayed in their town of origin. Again, this is neither good nor bad – it’s just the touristy way of exploring.

Photo opp at all costs

Kevin - a little kid we met running around the streets of Agua Caliente (Machu Picchu City) in Peru. Not a perfect photo for a tourist, but every traveler will love it!

Kevin – a little kid we met running around the streets of Agua Caliente (Machu Picchu City) in Peru. Not a perfect photo opp for a tourist, but every traveler will love it!

Nothing is going to keep a tourist from getting to the front of the line to get a selfie with the Mona Lisa. They are going to wait for hours until the perfect photo or video can be taken – the same one they saw on all the travel blogs and want for themselves. Tourists are the ones with cameras attached to the end of a selfie-stick who are oblivious to the fact that their equipment is getting in the way of every other person in their immediate area – but they will get that photo! Tourists tend to be grouped, sometimes unfairly, into the “annoying” category. Remember, they’ve only got so long at any one place before they have to rush to the next so they’re anxious to make sure every possible chance to document their presence in an area is taken. A tourist with 10 days in Europe will try to see as many famous places in as many countries as possible and may have a blast but often looks back and recalls feeling rushed and dissatisfied with the experience.

“The tourist wants to view things and be places, the traveler wants to create experiences through engagement.”                                                   – The Consummate Dabbler

Article: 7 Strategies to Help You Move and Stay Abroad Successfully

The Traveler – 3 Defining Characteristics

Has a plan, but not much of one

This summer! Here's my plan so far - fly there - fly back. What happens in between is unknown but going to be amazing!

This summer! Here’s my plan so far – fly there – fly back. What happens in between is unknown but going to be amazing!

And it’s usually very flexible. They land in Lima, Peru at 3:00am and plan on going straight to their hotel to drop off their bags and catch some sleep, but other than that and making sure to try the restaurant their friend recommended, they have two more days of doing whatever in the world their heart desires. If that means they lay in bed and enjoy time off work, so be it. If that means they walk the streets all day taking photos and drinking beer in dive bars trying to practice their Spanish with the locals, then that’s just dandy too. Travelers, like tourists tend to have a plan, but it’s a general plan of what they “think” they’ll want to do instead of what they “must” do.

Tends to come alone and leave with friends

Traveling Paris, France - I met one of these dudes online asking for a local's perspective and the other two I met randomly in the lobby of a hostel and ended up in Barcelona with one of them a week later. Awesome!

Traveling Paris, France – I met one of these amazing dudes online asking for a local’s perspective and the other two I met randomly in the lobby of a hostel and ended up in Barcelona with one of them a week later after having a blast in Paris. Awesome!

This isn’t always true, but generally speaking, the traveler is going to meet some interesting people they enjoy and are going to connect with them in some way. They’ll end up as Facebook friends or they’ll email from time-to-time, but one thing is certain – whenever they are going to be in the same part of the world in the future, they’re going to hang out again. I was in Cusco, Peru on Christmas night and went into a bar for a drink. After about twenty minutes I had met a couple of Brazilian women who were traveling with their friends and we connected on Facebook and have discussed visiting each others countries. That’s what a traveler loves – sharing their experiences with people. It’s all about engagement.

Photo opps are relationship opps

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Probably Rome, but maybe Barcelona or Zurich – doesn’t matter – this photo opp to take with one of the best people I have ever known. This is my friend Page. If traveling with others make sure they are gracious, honest, reliable people!

Hey, as a self-proclaimed traveler, I have my fair share of “touristy” photos. I’ve got dozens of photos of the Roman Colosseum and more photos of Machu Picchu than I know what to do with – but many of those photos are filled with people. Some of those people I love, some are family, many are acquaintances and some I’ll never see again, but what makes the photos and the whole experience great is remembering what happened when I was with other people. Travelers know that places can be amazing, but people are what make experiences magical. The traveler craves connections with people, different people, people from far away lands that live in completely different ways. The traveler has a thirst for understanding of new cultures and a desire to engage those cultures just the way they are – to learn about them and to appreciate them, never to change them.

These are what I consider to be the three defining characteristics of both the tourist and the traveler. There is so much overlap – both crave an experience, but it’s how they go about attaining those experiences that defines them and differentiates between them. Neither way is better, neither is worse, but as a former tourist turned world traveler, I can say that the traveler returns home without regret and is filled with the possibility of new opportunities that the tourist just doesn’t usually have. The tourist tends to wish they had met someone, spent more time doing something they rushed past or just allowing themselves to accept others the way they are and go with the flow. The traveler already did all of that and has the memories, friends and photos to show for it!

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Comments

  1. Such a great article! True observation and insight. …I enjoyed it! I guess I’m a little of both, a Travelourist! I need more practice regardlesss, such fun!

    • I have a bit of both in me too. Sometimes you see something and can’t help but want that perfect picture. I become a tourist toward the end of a long trip when I just want to go home and instead of relaxing, I just go see and do what everyone else is as I wait to get back home. Other than that, I see what I see – pure traveler.